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Golden Knights President Takes You Inside the Team’s Culture

As a guest speaker at the Baseball Winter Meetings, Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz offered great advice for sports business professionals.

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Bubolz (Left) opened up about how the Golden Knights have built their culture. (Image via @DavidWrightMLB)

Minor League Baseball is a hub for talent, and that certainly was showcased during the keynote speech to kick off this week’s Baseball Winter Meetings.

The speaker, Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz, spent part of his early career in MiLB and credits it for helping shape his life. Following a brief introduction talking about the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup Final run, he broke into some career advice and then detailed the culture built in the first major professional team in Las Vegas.

He implored those in leadership positions to take the time to help those who seek career advice. He cited two minor league executives who took time when he was young: the Quad City River Bandits’ Mike Tatoian and Tulsa Drillers’ Joe Preseren.

“It’s important as leaders to pay it forward,” Bubolz said. “At some point in your career, someone gave you a shot. I schedule a 30-minute call, most often with no job opportunities available, and talk about my experience and I’ll give guidance and direction. I talk a lot about Minor League Baseball and how it shaped me and the many opportunities I had.”

READ MORE: 4 Ways to Make Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

Bubolz said his career has been driven by people. He repeated he doesn’t have a Harvard MBA and was a “B and C student” in college — but stressed the importance of making connections and how impactful the right ones can be to a career.

At Golden Knights games — like this past Sunday, when plenty of the meeting’s attendees saw the team in action — Bubolz said he’s not sitting in a suite, but mingling with the fans and community.

Following the brief prelude with career advice, he also talked about his core tenets of leadership. Here are some highlights: 

Smile

“As a leader in our organization, we have a difficult task. We’re looked upon by our entire staff. The team is defined by winning and losing, but it doesn’t define our business. I think it’s important to set the tone and always smile.”

Set the pace of the company

“You set the pace for business. When I go get a cup of coffee, I set the pace. I’m moving; there’s an urgency behind getting a cup of coffee. You’re always on. People are always watching.”

Open door

“I meet with every new hire. The door is always open. I want to create an environment where people are comfortable coming in, with hopefully an idea.”

Visibility creates accountability

“We have a quarterly business meeting and we share everything. We share all our revenue numbers, expenses, how we’re performing as a business. From the interns to senior VPs, we want people to understand what they’re playing for — more accountability and more buy-in.”

Get in the weeds of core areas

“I’m not a CEO flying at 30,000 feet. That’s not who I am. Get in the weeds.”

He also talked at length about the building of the culture of the Golden Knights’ business office. Bubolz said he borrowed heavily from his 13 years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Don’t take bad penalties

“Be smart dealing with customers. Remain cool and collected.”

Support linemates

“Have great respect and understanding of all parts of the business.”

Ignore the goal horn

“In our business with social media, there is a lot of noise. Learn to ignore it and stay focused on the task at hand.”

Smile, even if you’ve had all your teeth knocked out by a high stick

“You can’t fake fun. If your people aren’t having fun, they can’t sell fun. We’re all at our best if we’re all having fun.”

Be different … Ready, aim, fire

“Take chances.”

He listed a variety of ideas brought out for the Golden Knights inaugural season, like the 51/49 raffle, the extravagant pre-game shows, 24-hour select-a-seat event, and an in-arena castle stage.

No honeymoon

A Stanley Cup run in an expansion season could lead to a let-down of a second season. Five weeks after the finals, the business team got together and set its second-season goals. This year, crowds are at 106 percent occupancy (last year was 103 percent) and sponsorship revenues have seen eight-figure growth.

The team came three wins short of hoisting the Stanley Cup in its first season, a rare accomplishment for any team let alone an expansion franchise, but the connection it made with the community was incredible. More than anything, it was a message than can resonate with MiLB teams who are crafting community gatherings.

READ MORE: Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball Is Anything but Minor 

Bubolz said he felt the Golden Knights helped change the narrative of the tourist-laden city and brought together a city of 2.3 million residents from different parts of the country and hurt by a tragedy. The team’s business operations coined it internally as the Golden Thread.

“I really believe community is a contact sport — and it’s our secret sauce,” he said. “Never forget how important it is to for players and the organization to say ‘yes.’ You get a lot of requests, but don’t lose sight of what got you there. We’re in the business of saying ‘yes.’”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Culture

‘Watering the Grass’: Why Company Culture Matters in Sports Business

A life in sports can be demanding, but that doesn’t mean an office has to be unwelcoming. Rather, open communication can provide a variety of benefits.

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Photo via pixabay

Your professional life in sports can be demanding, but that doesn’t mean office culture has to be cold.

A recent seminar at the Baseball Winter Meetings focused on office culture and featured Adam Nuse, the general manager of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds who graduated earlier this month from Western Kentucky University upon earning his doctorate in organizational leadership.

The seminar also included Round Rock Express General Manager Tim Jackson and Minor League Baseball Human Resources Manager Tara Thornton. The three discussed the changing dynamics of office culture and various perks that have been implemented.

Sports have long been an extended-hours work environment, but work, in general, is no longer 9-to-5, Nuse said. The key, he said, is to trust employees and offer them flexibilities.

READ MORE: Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball Is Anything but Minor

“One of the biggest things is you want work to be part of employee lifestyles,” Nuse said. “This generation is unlike some of the others, and they can be working all the time. If we allow them flexibility, they can be working anywhere and we can trust them to get their work down and the service gets better.”

The generational differences are large, Nuse said. When he was coming up through the ranks, working from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. through a seven-game homestand wasn’t unusual. Workers were driven, for the most part, by money at the end of the journey. Today, employees aren’t happy in the daily grind and aren’t driven solely by money, Nuse said.

It’s not an easy switch for the older generations in management to make, but Nuse said it pays off in the long run.

The Sounds’ organizational office changes — like staggered hours, for example — came from increased transparency and an open-door policy. Nuse also said one of the largest drivers for positive culture adjustments is the annual 360-degree reviews. The review asks five questions with anonymity: What do we do good? What do we do bad? What to get rid of? Staff MVP? What do you want to see from the organization in five years?

“It’s a platform to voice their opinion without feeling like they’ll get in trouble,” Nuse said.

Nuse recognizes there is an innate fear among early-career employees — and experienced it himself. Now as a superior, he said employees shouldn’t fear opening communication with managers.

“A lot of these old organizations are certainly motivated by fear and it creates an organizational paralysis of sorts,” Nuse said.

Similar to the 360-degree review, Nuse said he does his best to maintain an open-door policy and likes catching up with his employees. Some use it better than others, but that’s OK.

READ MORE: How to Handle Added Responsibility in Your Sports Business Career

“Some of the most influential people in our culture are the people who pop in and visit and keep me updated,” Nuse said. “Some of those people become the voice for everyone else who still might have that fear. It’s natural, but they know they can go to certain people and still have the ability to have their voice heard.”

Consistent and open communications can provide a variety of benefits. The conversations might lead to whole-scale organizational office culture changes. They also can lead to individual projects and benefits; that could mean an organization helping pay for continued education, for example. It never hurts to ask, Nuse said.

He cited a quote his wife says in regards to the common idiom: “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

“The grass is greener where your feet are,” Nuse said. “It’s about trying to create an environment where they can make the grass green where their feet are — an atmosphere where they can succeed and don’t have to look out for greener pastures. We try to invest in the time and efforts where they are, so while they’re here, the grass is growing.”

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